The Handbook of Research on Top Management Teams
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The Handbook of Research on Top Management Teams

Edited by Mason A. Carpenter

This Handbook presents original research and theory on executives, top management teams, and boards of directors and illustrates the vital importance of this field of study.
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Chapter 1: Alternate Configurations in Strategic Decision Making

Carla D. Jones and Albert A. Cannella


Carla D. Jones and Albert A. Cannella Jr. Since Thompson first established the idea in 1967, it seems widely accepted among organizational researchers that top management teams (TMTs) are charged with setting the strategic direction of their organizations (Thompson, 1967). This assumption seems to especially characterize scholars in the upper echelons tradition (i.e., Hambrick and Mason, 1984; Carpenter et al., 2004; Finkelstein et al., 2009). However, a careful review of the upper echelons literature highlights three issues that we take up in this chapter. First, while the general notion of what a TMT is and what its responsibilities are seems widely accepted, persistent questions remain regarding the concept of a unitary TMT. Rather, there seems to be a growing belief in the notion of a variety of executive teams emerging around specific strategic issues (Roberto, 2003). Put differently, subsets of executives coalesce around strategic issues that need resolution, raising questions about the existence of a unitary TMT. This complicates the study of TMTs, as we lack a clear sense of which executives comprise the TMT and the extent to which the TMT’s composition depends on the strategic decision under consideration. Second, since Hambrick and Mason argued strongly that the TMT is the appropriate level of analysis for studying strategic decisions (in an article published in 1984), most empirical researchers have actually emphasized the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) alone when studying strategic decisions. While there are good empirical reasons for doing this, it does undercut the widely held assumption that the...

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